Charles F. Bolden Jr., former NASA administrator and astronaut who flew on four space shuttle missions, and his son, Ché Bolden, a Marine Corps veteran, speak at a multigenerational conversation about leadership spanning decades of public, private, and military service.
HAASS: Well, thank you. Welcome, everybody. I'm Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and actually joining you today, something I haven't done for 15 months from my office at the Council on Foreign Relations from our headquarters in New York. We're not yet back on premises, but we're preparing for it. And that'll be one of our big priorities over the summer and our hope is to start meeting here in person come September. We'll get more to you on that, but in the meantime, again, good afternoon, one and all and welcome to one of my favorite events on the Council calendar. We try to do this twice a year from here in New York. And then twice a year from Washington. And the whole idea is to gather not simply our members but their children, their grandchildren, their nieces, their nephews, their neighbors, their neighbors' kids, and just about anyone else they met who was selling Girl Scout cookies.
Today, we are particularly fortunate because we've got two generations. We've got Charles F. Bolden Jr. and Ché Bolden. Before I introduce these two gentlemen, I just want to thank the Marc Haas Foundation no relationship to me alas. And the Stanley S. Shuman Family Foundation, Stanley and I are not related by blood, but we are good friends, I am fortunate for it. So I want to thank both of them for their support of this series. And we're glad to have Stan and Nate and perhaps other members of the family with us today. I want to welcome not simply our members, but again, any younger relatives and I also want to welcome many of the students who are joining us today, great to have you. Education has become one of our most important things that we do. And meetings like this are part of that.
Let me just introduce our two speakers today. Charles F. Bolden Jr., General Bolden was a major general in the U.S. Marine Corps and was also our twelfth administrator of NASA, [National] Aeronautics and Space Administration of this country. He flew on no fewer than four space shuttle missions, which is pretty cool. Graduate of Annapolis; flew over 100 combat missions during Vietnam, which is pretty impressive. He was a test pilot, at one point, going back to being pretty cool. All in all, an extraordinary career, and a diversified career of public service. We're thrilled to have the next gen of the Boldens, Ché Bolden, who was also in the Marine Corps. In his case for over a quarter of a century, ran their international programs. And now is the president and CEO of the Charles F. Bolden Group and executive leadership and basically, when I look at my own family, I find this sets a somewhat dangerous precedent. He's his father's boss. And in case Sam Haass is on this call, I do not want him to get any ideas. If he wants regime change at the Council on Foreign Relations, he's going to just have to wait his turn. And I just want to make that clear for the record.
Anyhow, I want to thank you both. One for being here today with us. But also, don't take this wrong way, even more important for all you've done for and with this country. Between the two of you for well, well, well over half a century, probably closer to three-quarters of a century. It's just an impressive example of public service. Age before beauty. So I'm going to start for a second with General Bolden, Charlie. Were you the first generation in your family to go into the military? I'm curious what led you to choose this as a career was this something like some kids grow up wanting to be a fireman and this is something or third play third base for the Yankees? How did you end up by doing what you did?
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: Fortunately, I am a product of the Greatest Generation. My dad and my uncles, as did most Black men in the 1940s. My father was a schoolteacher who was drafted into the army in 1940. He graduated—well '41—he graduated from Johnson C. Smith University, he and my mom, and returned our hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, started his teaching career and a year later was drafted into the army. Trained at Fort Jackson right there at home in all Black units and served in North Africa and Europe. So he served until the war ended and then came back home. I was born and he taught all after that, but, but like everybody in his generation, he talked very little about his military service. So in that respect, you could say, I'm a first-generation military person, there was no expectation that I would go into the military. I'm not sure there was any desire that I go into the military. But I think what I did, was I chose the Naval Academy in seventh grade. And my mom and dad as educators were really high on any school and they knew a lot about the service academies, you know, Army and Navy and West Point and Annapolis. So when I finally applied to go to the Naval Academy, and finally got an appointment, I think they were ecstatic. They didn't think what the ramifications of that were until I told them four years later, I was going in the Marine Corps.
HAASS: So I expect when you are at the Naval Academy, were you there in the '60s or '70s? What year?
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: My class started in June of 1964. We graduated the year after Tet in June of 1968.
HAASS: So I would have thought that at the time, you were one of the few African Americans at the Naval Academy, and then when you join the Marine Corps, again, you were a minority, if you will, within a minority.
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: You would be very correct in both.
HAASS: And to what extent—talk about that. I mean, I there's so many questions I could ask. So let's just sort of talk about what that was like how much harder it made it for you or different, better in certain ways. To what extent was it a framing issue or over time and overtime did it become less of one?
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: I tell people all the time, hindsight is always different. I don't know that it's twenty-twenty. But while I was going through it, after my first year, I didn't really think about what I was experiencing, to be quite honest. When I got there, there were seven of us in the class of '68. There were two, three in the class of '65, the senior class to include Admiral Paul Reason who went on to great fame in the in the U.S. Navy, the class of 66, the junior class had none, the class of 67, head to one of whom went on to be a submarine Captain nuclear submarine captain, we lost him two years ago. In fact, we've lost both of them now. We had one of the early Black submariners and Calvin Huey, who was the first Black to play on Navy's varsity football team, went on to get a doctorate in mathematics. And then in my class, we started with seven. By the time we finished the first year, we were down to four and the four of us stuck together. And I tell people, we were on an island in Annapolis. Maryland was still segregated. You know, the Civil Rights Act had been passed for years—well, in fact, it was actually passed the year that I went to the Naval Academy, so it hadn't caught on yet. Maryland was still very southern and very segregated. And there were places we couldn't go. There was still signs that said, "don't come here" and that kind of stuff. But there was enough to keep me busy at the Naval Academy that overtime I didn't pay very much attention to it. So I think between my plebe year and my first-class year, my senior year when I had liberties and I could go out and I could do big boy things like we could go outside. It was—I forget how many miles limit it was—Ché may be able to remind me—but within a certain mileage of the chapel dome, you couldn't go to a bar, you couldn't take a drink, but you could go just on the outskirts. And that was when I decided I was going to follow my classmates out to the local bars. And only to find that when you went in the bartender would tell you he was sorry, he couldn't serve you. And that was one of my disappointments. I expected my classmates would rally around and say, okay, we're all leaving. But they didn't. They generally turned their back and watched us figure out what we were going to do. And that part left you kind of scarred.
HAASS: In the course of your career, to what extent do you feel that you frequently or infrequently faced discrimination? And that was just something that, it was an extra hurdle and you just had to hurdle it?
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: You know, Dr. Haass, it was something that again I tell you hindsight kind of hides a lot of things. I really don't remember other than housing, in my training, I don't remember facing discrimination. Although I can look back and see things that at the time, it should have been obvious. Housing was one of the things though that stood out, you know, there is nothing in the north for training for the Marine Corps, zero. You know, the farthest north you can come to train is Quantico You're still in the south. But as an aviator, once I went through Quantico as a second lieutenant, when I finished my six months at the basic school, I headed south. And I started in Pensacola, Florida. Some people call it South Alabama, for a very good reason. And I went from Pensacola to Meridian, Mississippi. The week that we got there—the week before we got there, the Ku Klux Klan had bombed a Jewish synagogue. You know, my wife and I went through trying to find a place to live. I had to take her back to South Carolina while I hunted around, but that's another long story. But we went from Meridian back to Pensacola and then to Kingsville, Texas. So and then finally to Cherry Point, North Carolina, where, where Colonel Bolden was born. He was actually born in North Carolina and in the Naval Hospital at Cherry Point.
HAASS: So Colonel Bolden, you've been introduced by dad, Ché, when you hear this, this is sound—how much of this echoes? And how much a generation later, 25 years plus or minus later, when you hear these things? Do you go, what's the echo? And what's—thank God, things changed dramatically. How should people—so essentially your father's experience was not that long after the desegregation of basically a generation after the desegregation of the armed forces, then your dad's generation came, then yours. How much what was your sense of the degree of change when you guys would sit over bourbon late at night, talk about your experiences? How different were they?
CHÉ BOLDEN: Well first thanks for having us. It's really an honor. But to answer the question, I think, when I look back on it very much like my father's already said, looking back, it looks different than what it was at the time. I was very privileged in the fact that I got to follow in the footsteps of such an amazing person, regardless of whether he's my father or not, that's the truth. That also afforded me certain privileges that I might not have been afforded otherwise. And so there were certain things that in hindsight, I think, shielded me or maybe kind of camouflaged some of the things I was experiencing. I do recall and feeling it in the moment and looking back on it, I see it even more clear, that I was always the exception to certain rules, I chose to go the same route that he did, I ended up being an aviator in the Marine Corps, while my eyes weren't good enough to sit in the front seat, I sat in the back seat of F-18s. But I was always, almost always, not always—I was almost always one of one—the only Black person in the ready room or as an officer in the unit I was in. But to be fair to my colleagues and to the units I was in, that did not seem to affect my ability to advance and get opportunities. But again, sometimes I question in hindsight, whether that was because I was an exception. I was the son of the general or son of the astronaut. And that made a difference to a certain extent. I can always tell when people were genuine versus non-genuine, because those who are genuine, were interested in finding out about me and those who were non genuine always said, hey, how's your father? And right then I kind of knew exactly where to go in that regard with respect to the conversation.
HAASS: I should want to follow up on that last point because I would expect Council members like the residents of Lake Wobegon are above average, I would think a lot of the children of Council members encounter a life where their parents, one or more of their parents, and others have reputations for being successful. And particularly if their last name is not Smith or Jones, people more than every now and then say, hey, by any chance is your mom, so and so your dad, so and so? To what extent did that, you mentioned a little bit, did it make your life easier, did it also make your life tougher? Having this father who shall we say was not your average member of the Marine Corps? Or as best I can tell he did pretty well?
CHÉ BOLDEN: Yeah. Yeah, well above average. You know, I was really fortunate in in this one particular regard. My mother and father were very, very particular, very specific with my sister and I that we were to live our own lives. And they were very adamant about that. And they never once set expectations other than for us to do as well as we could as individuals. There was no expectation for me to follow my father's footsteps. It was no expectation if my sister followed my mother's footsteps. Now, to be fair, we both ended up following both of their footsteps. I went to the Naval Academy and my sister went to Spelman College. But I do recall, unlike what my father was saying as far as my grandmother and grandfather being ecstatic about him going to the Naval Academy, my parents actually tried to talk me out it. They did it partly because I think that they felt I was doing it because I felt like I had to do it. It wasn't until later that they realized it was a decision I came to on my own. I had applied to a few other schools. And full disclosure, the Naval Academy wasn't my first choice—Stanford. But they didn't let me in. So I went to the Naval Academy. It ended up being one of the best choices I made in that regard. But the pressure was never—I never felt, you know maybe other people felt some type of pressure to give me a little bit extra leeway or a little bit more rope, if you will. But it was never anything that I felt overt. Nor did I, you know, feel compelled to kind of chase after anything.
HAASS: Interesting. In a minute, I want to talk to both you about leadership questions because I know you've both thought long and hard about them. But I do want to squeeze in a question about space, Charlie, given your background there. And I get this question in a different way a lot of time, which is why are you so interested in foreign policy given all the problems we have here at home? So let me ask you the space version of that question. Why should we care a lot about space? Why should we invest precious resources in space? Given all the problems here on Earth? How is it that you basically make the case that space ought to be a priority for this country?
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: For me, it's pretty easy. And I start with a very trite answer, which is, we don't spend the dime in space. Every cent of NASA's budget and the Department of Defense budget is spent here, in procuring the things that allow us to go, but most importantly, space provided—the microgravity environment of space provides us an opportunity to do things that we cannot do here on Earth very well with reference to biomedical research, to materials processing, pharmaceuticals development, on and on and on. And it just gives us an opportunity to advance technology and produce the kinds of things that we need to advance humanity back here on the planet a little bit easier and a lot better. The other thing it does—a couple other things it does—I defy anybody to do what I did. To have to leave this planet, go not very far. You can go to where the International Space Station is—250 miles—look back on the planet and not just be mesmerized by what you see and not be struck by the responsibility that we all have to preserve that little marble. You don't see the whole ball in low-Earth orbit, but you see enough of it. The atmosphere as thin as it is, the fact that we live on seventy-five percent water. And the fact that there is no way to isolate us from each other, so the intrinsic value of going to space just to gain an appreciation for the planet is critically important. And that's why I'm a big fan of commercial spaceflight. So that I think the more people we get to have the opportunity to go to space will understand the planet better and will be really hyped on trying to do environmentally responsible things. But going back again, to the manufacturing, the medical developments, I'll give you one example because I love it. And it's just the ultrasound. You used to have to go and get on a thing and be rolled into an ultrasound machine to look at your innards. Well, because of going to space and astronauts needing to be taken care of medically, we've gotten to the point that I apologize for raising my glass of wine, but an ultrasound machine for an astronaut is not much bigger than my glass of wine. And they can now do their own ultrasound and it gets sent down to Earth by radio waves and the doc on the ground can tell them what to do. That technology is now applied to people in villages and towns, far distant from a doctor, where a trained nurse or midwife can take an ultrasound of a woman who is about to go into labor. And the doctor can help along with the pregnancy or can say, look, she's got problems, we need to get her to a hospital or something. So get in the first piece of transportation you have or let us send a helicopter to pick her up. We couldn't do that prior to the space era.
HAASS: When I went to elementary school, the example my teacher used to have why spending on space was good was Corningware.
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: Yeah, people talk about Velcro and Tang. And the fact is Velcro was not invented for space. You know, it was really good. We use what we call thousand mile an hour tape for everything. It's just plain old masking tape. And we don't drink Tang. And I probably shouldn't say this.
HAASS: You're bursting my bubble man.
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: I know.
CHÉ BOLDEN: Dr. Haass, one thing he will not say even though he's not with NASA anymore is the humanity has benefited so much from space exploration because there are thousands of things that were developed for the purposes of space travel that we use here on the planet every day. Unfortunately, NASA is not permitted to advertise all the things they take in part in but there's very few things that we deal with on a day-to-day basis that were not developed, either specifically for use in space or as a result of how we used them in space.
HAASS: Interesting. I want to raise a couple of questions about leadership. So Ché, I'll start with you. Then we'll go to your dad, which is, you both had your principal experiences in the military, and the military has certain rules, traditions, about leadership, that are in many ways are very difficult to transfer. I haven't been saluted here at the Council in quite a while, let me put that put that out there. The ability to order is, in many cases, pretty rare, shall we say, in the non-military? So how is it that given your mutual backgrounds in the military, to make a transition from there or segue from there into talking about and trying to impart lessons of leadership? To what extent is the military a useful model? For the civilian world, for the commercial world? For the outside, the non-military world? What's the answer to that?
CHÉ BOLDEN: You know, interestingly enough, there's no difference between leadership in the military and leadership anywhere else, you know, leadership is about example. And leadership is about accountability. And one of the things I learned very early, you know, one of the very few influences, if you will, of the military was my father was still an (inaudible) officer as I was growing up, but one of the things he made sure—
HAASS: Ché, you're freezing a little bit.
CHÉ BOLDEN: Okay, I'll start again, the differences between leadership in the military and leadership in the civilian world are very, very few, very few and far between, because leadership is about accountability. It's about trust. And it's about example. In the military, we tend to use the hierarchical structure to say who's in charge and who's not. But that doesn't necessarily equate to who are the leaders. The military is full of a lot of really strong leaders, but you'd be surprised in some cases, in a lot of units that I was in, and in units that I was around, many of the leaders were not the ones that you would look to with the highest rank, they were the ones who knew how to inspire those around them and get the best out of them. Every really good leader that I came across, starting with my father, knew how to follow first. And by learning how to follow first, they knew all of the things that that someone needed in order to follow someone. And so leading by inspiring people to do things that wouldn't otherwise do was something that we learned.
And that's, you know, there's no difference in the military and the civilian sector in that regard. Now, there are other things that we put in place in the military construct because some of the decisions have a little bit more gravitas behind them. And it's no exaggeration to say life or death decisions. However, fundamentals of it still remain the same. I kind of want to tie this to an answer or to a question you asked earlier, I ended up joining the military, largely because of the examples of leaders that I saw growing up in the ‘70s and '80s. Every person I saw that just seemed to inspire people around them happened to be men of the military because we didn't have that many women at the time. But men in the military and more specifically men in the Marine Corps. It was just something I naturally gravitated toward. The Marine Corps had instilled something in those individuals that made them worth following. And that's one of the reasons why I ended up joining the Marine Corps as well because the example of those individuals set by my father and his contemporaries provided exemplars. I couldn't find anything better than that.
HAASS: It's a good answer. Let me ask your dad, are you worried, General Bolden, when you see military people playing a larger role in civilian-political life, which we're beginning to see? What's your take on that? Not so much the specifics of what they're advocating for. So it's not so much to get into the General Flynn case, per se. But simply the fact that a lot of people once they're taking the uniform, or whether they're serving as secretary of defense in the Pentagon, or getting involved in campaigns, are you comfortable with that?
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: I would prefer that we stay out of the political arena. And I say that as one who went into the political arena as the NASA administrator. You know, it was a political appointment or political position. But I think at times if the person that's qualified and believes they can make a difference, I'm okay with it. But I am bothered by the proliferation, if you will, of former flag and general officers in political positions of the government. You know, if you want to do it, run for office, if you want to be a politician. But if I talk about leadership, and I'll kind of piggyback on what Ché said—
HAASS: Good, I wanted you to, so thank you.
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: I learned something along, several things long time ago. One is good leaders command respect; they don't demand it. There's a big difference. I have worked for and been associated with military leaders who were great managers, horrible leaders. Because they demanded respect. They ruled with an iron fist. And because of the military propensity to do as you tell me to do, I follow orders, unless it's an unlawful order. Then some leaders leave people strewn behind them, you know, they get the job done, but they've got bodies behind them of people that they drove out of the Marine Corps. And similarly, you see corporate leaders like that, who just drive people out because they drive them into the ground. The people who were my role models were all inspirational leaders who commanded respect. You wanted to do what they talked about doing because they made you feel like, one, they made you feel that it was your idea, or they made you feel like you had contributed to the final decision made. And so that's how I became what I call a participatory leader, it torques people off sometimes who are your subordinates because frequently in the military, they want an answer right now. They don't care if they like it or not, but just give me tell me what to do. And I don't operate that way. I believe that all the way down to the lowest-ranking person, everyone has something to contribute.
And this will go to the idea of diversity and inclusion. But the inclusion part more particularly. I believe that I am never the smartest person in the room. And I like to take advantage of all the people surrounding me who are much smarter than I am. But I can't do that if I don't give them an opportunity to speak up and say their part. I think if you look at an infantry unit in the Marine Corps. I'm not an infantry man, but having been trained to be one, before any operation, everybody gets around the table to include PFC (inaudible) frequently and talks over the plan. And a good leader will say, okay, Private Jones, or whatever it is, what's your take, since you're going to be the guy out front. There is no general officer who walks in front of a unit. That's just not the place for general officers, it's usually, I call it PFC (inaudible). But it's usually some probably the lowest-ranking person in the unit who's out walking point, as we call it. And they need to understand what the plan is, so that they can take care of everybody else. And the third thing is just take care of your people, and they'll take care of you. And that's probably the most important tenet of leadership that I learned. And I tried to do that on the inside and the outside. And I make a point of trying to instill my subordinate leaders of the same thing. If I see you worried about you, one thing I know you're not worried about your people, and you're not taking care of them. So that's sort of my hallmark.
HAASS: General, I wanted to follow up on one distinction you drew, because I see it a lot in the literature. Which is about you distinguish between being a manager and being a leader. Can you just push you a little bit on that? Because often the words are used interchangeably. So when you hear those two words, what do you see? Because my guess is, you see them as with distinctions with a difference.
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: I see them distinctly different. A manager is a person who has technical capability. And when I say technical, it could be technical, like engineering, science, military, administrative, but they have the technical clout to be the best at that particular job. I can shoot better than anybody, I can type better than anybody. I can turn a wrench better than anybody. But when you become a leader in the government, when you become a member of what's called the Senior Executive Service, your job is no longer to turn a wrench. Your job is to gather people together, get them to work toward a common goal. And, you know, and take care of them. That's the distinct difference. I remember when I was a young first lieutenant in Vietnam. We were stationed in Thailand, but I always wanted to be I love being with the troops. And I was the maintenance control officer and I always volunteered to work the night shift so that when I came in and worked until eight in the morning. And I would always go out and talk to the mechanics as they were working on the airplane and ask them to show me what they were doing. And every once in a while, asked to turn a wrench. And I got caught one night by the by the master chief who was the maintenance chief. And he yelled at me, he said, lieutenant, get the hell out from under my airplane. And he said, you know, you're a lieutenant. We pay you to lead, we don't pay you to turn a wrench. And he was—it was not disrespectful at all, but he was just reminding me of my place as a leader and telling me I'm no longer a manager, you're a leader. You break your finger or something and go to the go to the hospital. We can't take Private Jones and put him in your place. You know, if Private Jones breaks his finger at something, I got a lot more Private Joneses to come out here and turn that wrench. I don't have a lot of people who sit in the cockpit and fly the airplane tomorrow.
HAASS: I got two last questions before I open it up. One is for Ché, and one is for both of you. Ché, my sources tell me—I got my sources still. They told me that you ask often people around you to start with why before they set off and begin any project. Why don't you share a little bit of that wisdom? What's behind that?
CHÉ BOLDEN: So I am almost positive, I owe Simon Sinek a boatload of royalties, because I read his book and it really resonated with me, because a lot of times, we focus on the what of anything that we do. You know, what is it we're trying to do. And that's usually what people go to. And they're like, hey, we've got to do this. But they never stopped to ask why. To me, it's very, very important for everyone to understand why it is that we're doing whatever it is, we're going to go back to the previous discussion, a leader makes sure that the entire organization from top to bottom understands why we're doing something.
My last boss when I was in the Marine Corps, he had a very difficult task. He was in charge of all the critical infrastructure for the Marine Corps, all of the installations. And for those who know the Marine Corps, we don't really think about installations very often. We think about other stuff, but we don't think about installations. The reality of it, though, is the installation is it's an asset that it has to be tended to and whatnot. But the problem that we had, the entire three years we were together, was that nobody understood why the installations were important. And so it was our job. And he asked me to help was to figure out a way to convince people that spending money on infrastructure, critical infrastructure was important. And it always came back to why. We can't launch a single marine out to do anything without having a solid infrastructure back here. We can't take care of their families without having a solid infrastructure, we can't provide the jobs to the local community if the infrastructure is not set up properly. So asking people that first question right off the bat, why are we doing this? It's not a disrespectful question. And if my kids are listening, you know, it's okay to ask why once or twice, usually when I'm giving you those types of instructions. But generally speaking, knowing why you're doing something is critically important, or else it has no meaning, and you can very easily get distracted and head somewhere else.
HAASS: Great. One last question for you both. We've got a lot of young people with us tonight. Why should they or maybe should they not think about a career in the military? They're young people, they're high school, college, even later in their 20s. They're at the buffet of life, so to speak, with unlimited choice. Based on your experience, why? Why is the military often a good thing to do? Or maybe more narrowly? Why is for certain kinds of people? Certain tendencies, certain interests, certain personality types. Why should they be some people in particular, think about it as either a full career or at least as a place for five years or what have you? I'd be curious, this is a Daughters and Sons event and again, they don't often hear from people who have military experience. I think would be great for them to hear.
CHÉ BOLDEN: I don't often thank people for asking a certain question. But thank you for asking that question. Because there's one thing that's always been eating at me, since I first joined the military, and the appreciable skill that join United States military or any military across the globe provides you is one of the things we've been talking about for the better part of 30 minutes. And that's leadership. That is an intangible that the military is one of the best laboratories for that. The only other place better in my personal opinion, is competitive team sports because you have to learn how to work your way through adversity. The military is exactly the same way you are, you are faced with complex problems that you cannot solve by yourself. And you have to learn how to lead or like I mentioned, you have to learn how to follow first, but you have to learn how to lead in order to get through those. And to be frank, I think a lot of people place undue influence on the technical skills that they gain in the military. Depending on what your interests are, you can join one of our military services and get some appreciable technical skills. But the reality is you can get those from a variety of different places, you don't have to join the military to learn how to code. You don't have to join the military to learn how to be an accountant. Quite frankly, I think that that's a very poor decision if that's what you joined the military for. However, on the flip side of it, the things that are foundational of being part of the United States military today, an all-volunteer force since the early '70s, is that you have to learn to lead in ways that are very valuable to you, no matter where you go. It's no coincidence that quite a few fortune 500 CEOs and senior executives have had prior military service. They didn't bring their military skills into that job. They brought their leadership skills into that job. And so for any young woman or man out there who thinks about the military, don't focus on those individual skill sets that a military job might give you, focus on the larger, broader context of, hey, you're going to learn how to work with an incredibly diverse workforce. You're going to learn how to motivate people that you don't have anything in common with, but you've got a common mission. And then you're also going to learn how to communicate better because the military, young men and women in the military don't suffer fools. And so you can't sound like an idiot. So you'll learn how to speak better. That's all I've got. I think. Well, we use words like (inaudible). and all that. So I guess I can't really say you learn how to speak better.
HAASS: Got it. General?
CHARLES F. BOLDEN JR.: Yeah, I don't have a lot to add. But I will take the opportunity. I'm like Ché, I'm incredibly glad you asked the question, because in working an issue right now for the Marine Corps and trying to help understand why we have systemic bias and why we don't have representation in the upper ranks of the Marine Corps from women and minorities, and why we have three out of five hundred plus tactical aviators who are Black today. That's because we are unable to communicate with families across this country that their sons and daughters can learn the one skill that no one can take from them. And that's leadership. And they can learn as Ché said, how to how to work with a diverse group in which you're not in the majority, if they happen to be somebody like Ché and me. You learn that people respect you for your ability to get the job done.
You know, it's not a coincidence to me that, that we don't have a problem with diversity and inclusion in the enlisted ranks in the Marine Corps. We are way over the national average for representation there. But it's because enlisted Marines are looking for somebody that they can follow, who's going to keep them alive and get the job done. And they don't—they could probably care less who the general is because they don't see the general very often. They do care who the gunnery sergeant is or who the staff sergeant is or who the sergeant is that's leading their platoon. and they look for someone who can command their respect. And that is something that I don't think you get in any other profession, anywhere. Stay five years, you will be a different person, you will bring a set of tools to your job after you get out that nobody else who didn't have your experience will have it. And we really need that in the Black community today. We have got to find a way and I this is a this is a commercial, to be quite honest. We have got to find a way for the U.S. military to look like America. And the only way we can do that is to ask America to let us into their homes to particularly into the Black and Hispanic homes in this country because we need some Black and Hispanic captains and majors. And that's the only way we're going to get generals. You don't get generals by coming out of the Naval Academy and they call you a general. It takes time. And so you got to start with lieutenants and captains and majors. So that's my appeal.
HAASS: That's great. Carrie or Megan, why don't we get some really good question from some of the younger folks here who have joined us this afternoon.